The Taming of the Shrew does not often join La Fille Mal Gardée on the list of great ballets with spanking scenes. The standard 1969 version by John Cranko contains much exciting dance and some rough wooing…
but none of it involves Petruchio taking Katherina across his knee. Similarly, the 2014 version choreographed for the Bolshoi by Jean-Christophe Maillot has some promising moments…
and Petruchio does indeed seem provoked…
but the consequence turns out to be:
Wrong way up, Petruchio!
But ballet Petruchios don’t always disappoint. Goodbye, Cranko and Maillot, and step forward Stephen Mills, artistic director of Ballet Austin, Texas, who was commissioned in 2004 to create a Shrew ballet for a young audiences program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. In fact, he didn’t much care for their choice of material, reasoning that, since ballet is an art form mainly enjoyed by women, a misogynistic story about how a woman needs to be tamed by a man might not play well with his regular audience. But on the other hand, nobody turns down the Kennedy Center. So he chose to play up the sparky physical comedy, and drew on influences from commedia dell’arte to Kiss Me Kate. You will be able to guess one of the things he drew from the latter, a prospect made all the more enticing by the way Kate is costumed in this version:
The dancer who created the role of Kate was Allisyn Paino, and here she is dancing it again in the 2007 revival at Ballet Austin, with Jim Stein as Petruchio:
And here’s the alternate cast from that 2007 production, Paul Michael Bloodgood as Petruchio and Aara Krumpe giving an exceptionally energetic performance as Kate:
Now, it’s fair to say that it’s unlikely to get better than a Petruchio/Kate spanking on red panties, but Stephen Mills does have some competition, much of it in Europe…
In the early 1990s, Hungarian Laszlo Seregi (1929-2012), famous for his ballet versions of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, had a near-fatal heart attack. How could he repay the doctor who saved his life? Please create another Shakespeare ballet, asked the doctor. Seregi obliged with A Makrancos Kata (Unruly Kate), which premiered in 1994.
Although there are a few more lifts from Kiss Me Kate, Seregi’s approach was quite unlike that of Stephen Mills, in that Kate isn’t the one who gets spanked. Instead, the Hungarian version followed the alternative stage tradition of Bianca spanking:
The original Kate and Bianca were Katalin Hagai and Katalin Volf:
And in 2003, here’s another outing for Hagai as Kate, this time giving a slightly more assertive spanking to Erika Soos as Bianca:
Still in the Balkans, the Serbian National Ballet produced a new version at Belgrade in 2009, choreographed by Kuroslav Simic. This was another where Bianca was the one at risk, courtesy of her shrewish sister. At the premiere, Mila Dragicevic was Kate and Tamara Ivanovic got spanked, fluttering her legs and beating her palms on the floor while the girls’ father tried ineffectually to intervene. Here’s the scene in rehearsal…
and here it is in performance, with Bianca showing a lot more leg:
But will there ever be another Petruchio/Kate spanking in ballet? Thanks to the German choreographer Ralf Rossa, the answer is yes. His adaptation was first performed at Halle in 2014, and featured a Kate and Petruchio uncharacteristically attired in blue. Though at this particular moment, Kate’s blue skirt is obviously not exactly where she’d like it to be:
It seems that, notwithstanding the dominance of Cranko and the heavy coverage of Maillot, the world of ballet hasn’t entirely turned its back on the heady tradition of Shrew spanking.